“Many theorists have observed that members of ethnic and cultural minority groups, including deaf and hard of hearing persons, adjust to cultural oppression in similar ways that profoundly influence their identity development.” (p26). Sue and Sue’s (2003a) five stage model of Identity Development is cited:
3. resistance and immersion
5. integrative awareness.
Until I read Alone in the Mainstream by Gina Oliva, I was very much still in conformity (”ignorance about and denial of cultural differences”). Intellectually, I reflected on my hearing loss quite a bit- but deep down I believed I was hearing and minimized my experience. I believed that I was performing well enough to pass. Having someone say “I didn’t even know you had a hearing loss, I had to be told” and other similar comments was considered a compliment.
Durity et al, 2006, write “upon entering school, hard of hearing children may initially recognize that they are different than their hearing peers but may be praised for their ability to appear “hearing” (Harvey, 2003). As a result, these children may see their hearing loss as an unacceptable part of themselves that must be hidden. These children can frequently feel that they do not fully fit within their hearing school or social settings. They find themselves trying to function in both worlds. The hearing world praises them for not appearing to have a disability, while the Deaf world rejects them for not being sufficiently deaf. (p28)
By adolescence, hard of hearing youth may not have a peer group with which to identify, and they often feel alienated from any group. While communication may be relatively easy with hearing persons in one-to-one situations, it is typically more difficult if not impossible with groups of hearing peers. Similarly, the HOH adolescent will not find it easy to engage with deaf peers because she or he does not share a common language and tends to not want to identify with a group seen to be more obviously “disabled.” It is not unusual for HOH adolescents to feel anger and rage about their hearing loss and to project this anger onto hearing peers and family. (p28)
If, deep down, one does not experience themselves as deaf because they have no context and no reference point for it, one comes to believe there must be other reasons for inability to express one’s self freely and such social isolation. I internalized this in many ways. It is eye opening to read:
“many deaf children experience trauma due to communicative isolation. Evidence for this can be drawn from the clinical experience of Harvey (1996), who observes that his adult deaf clients report childhood-based post-trauma responses triggered by more recent communication situations. Following a particularly difficult communicative interaction, deaf clients may report a number of common trauma responses identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV. During communication situations with hearing people in adulthood, deaf individuals will re-experience:
-the feelings of isolation and being misunderstood they had as children
-thoughts of being socially isolated or actually withdrawing from contact with hearing persons in order to avoid stimuli associated with the trauma of communicative isolation.
-hyperarousal and hypervigilance as they become aware of the inadequacy of their communication, resulting in reactions that may be overly assertive or resigned and passive.” (p32)
Redefining this as trauma really helps me to understand the swift, kicked in the stomach pain I experience whenever I feel left out or excluded and the rapid resignation and withdrawal that I go into when it happens. I try to remind myself of how minor that particular situation was or not to take it personally, but regardless I am flooded, stricken, my stomach churning. Often, addressing the current situation would not be helpful because it is so out of proportion. I am re-experiencing old scenarios or I am hypervigilant, easily and painfully triggered by ordinary socialization among hearing people.
All of these quotes are very significant to me, although I struggle to tie it all together in one coherent entry. I know that I have shifted from conformity to dissonance (the discovery of oppression). I am beginning to realize in my heart that I am deaf (though I have yet to say those words out loud in any form of disclosure). At least deafness as it is defined in audiology as “severe hearing loss” and “inability to hear conversation without hearing aids.”
I once fervently believed that some day, in the right situation with the right people, my inexplicable personality paralysis, the repeated situations of exclusion or being “too quiet” would fall away permanently. Now I am beginning to realize that this will never happen, because I am deaf in a hearing world. I will be most “myself” on a 1:1 basis or in small groups or in writing, but I will not be liberated like I once believed.
I used to have a buffer that protected me from being fully aware of how much I miss out on, how much I am pretending, and the unbelievable amount of energy I am putting into “passing” as hearing. This buffer is breaking down before new awareness of oppression, of unrealistic expectations I have internalized in a hearing culture.
Then I begin to wonder. WHY am I working so hard? Why am I hiding and pretending and owning such an unrealistic burden? Why am I here? I begin to catch glimpses of hope for other scenarios where I do not have to work so hard, freeing up boundless, anxiety-free energy for self-expression. Then just as quickly, I am discouraged by not knowing fluent ASL, by knowing that this culture would not consider me a part of it either. I feel overwhelmed and stuck in dissonance.
The next step is resistance and immersion- where one becomes immersed within the minority community and rejects larger society. Is that realistic for me? I must do something, I can’t stay stuck in dissonance forever. I guess I wish I could just skip this step go straight to comfortable biculturalism. The fear is of how much I might have to give up of the known world. How much would have to change?
National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2006). White paper on addressing the trauma treatment needs of children who are deaf or hard of hearing and the hearing children of deaf parents. Revised. Los Angeles, Calif., and Durham, NC: National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 2006, www.NCTSN.org.
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Feb 16th 2008Hearing loss